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London's Gatwick airport suspends all flights after 'multiple' reports of drones

Sightings continue to be reported as airport cites 'deliberate attempt to disrupt flights'

Updated No flights have arrived or left London's Gatwick Airport since just before 21:00 UTC last night after drones were supposedly spotted over the airspace.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick's chief operating officer, told the BBC's Today programme [from 1:09.39] on Radio 4 this morning that 20 police units from two forces were hunting down the drone operator as "that is the way to disable the drone". He added: "We also have the helicopter up in the air."

Woodroofe claimed that "two drones" had been spotted by staff the night before. "They were over [the runway]... over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from..."

The COO confirmed that another drone sighting had been made just minutes before he began speaking to host John Humphrys. At around 07:12 UTC, he said: "In the last five minutes we saw drones back over the perimeter fence in our runway and taxiway area"...

Answering the question on everyone's lips as they pulled imaginary triggers at the air while scoffing, he told Today that police had advised that "it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets".

Reg reporter Richard Speed, literally our man on the ground, is one of the 2,000 people whose flights have been unable to take off. He told El Reg's London HQ: "For some reason, only the robot voice is allowed to use the tannoy, [which] means airline staff are having to yell updates from the info desks.

"Flight crew and cabin crew are also milling about. 'We know as much as you do – no one is telling us anything'."

"Anything scheduled after 8am is now cancelled. If I was a drone hobbyist I would be seriously worried about [the] kneejerk reaction."

Air traffic control organisation Eurocontrol said Gatwick – UK's second biggest airport – would be closed until 12:00 UTC, in an update issued at 09:06 UTC.

The runway was closed on 21:00 on Wednesday night – trapping thousands of people in the terminals awaiting direct and connecting flights in the runup to the Christmas break.

The airfield was opened briefly at 03:01 but was sealed off about 44 minutes later due to a "further sighting of drones".

The airport said in a tweet an hour ago that it was working with the Sussex* police and wouldn't reopen the runway until it had "suitable reassurance" it was safe to do so.

Angry travellers took to the microblogging platform to complain. Tinkerbell81 opined: "You seriously expect us to believe that 'drone activity' shuts an airport down for nearly 12 hours ........ it was raining hard most of the night! Finding the 'operator' would be a needle in a haystack..."

Although "Jaeyeon Park", who asked the location of the gate for a British Airways flight, must have been relieved to have been told:

Said our man on the scene: "I'd have an airport beer, but the queue for Wetherspoons is epic." ®

* In the tradition of London airports (other than the marvellous London city, in East London's Docklands), Gatwick is in one of the home counties surrounding Greater London – in LGW's case, Sussex.

If you're wondering why the drones haven't been shot down... here's our view on why.

Updated to add at 10:42 UTC

Passengers are being sent to their gates. But El Reg has noticed Air traffic control organisation Eurocontrol pushing back reopening times to 1300.

Sussex police has called the drone disruption a "deliberate act" but said "There are no indications to suggest this is terror-related". It has asked anyone who can help identify the operators to ring 999.

Passengers have been turned back from the gates again, Reg man Richard Speed told us.

Updated to add at 12:30 UTC

At 11:20 UTC Eurocontrol extended the closure until 14:00 UK time, but just 20 minutes later, it sent out an update saying the closure would remain in place until 16:00 UTC.

Gatwick, meanwhile, confirmed at 11:54 UTC that "ongoing drone activity around the airfield" has kept all flights suspended from Gatwick. It said the "significant disruption" was the result of "what appears to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights".

Updated to add at 12:40 UTC

Sussex cops have assured the public that the drone pic it used in a previous tweet – a Shutterstock image of a drone quadcopter with digital camera - was "not [one of] the devices being sought". It added: "It is believed that the Gatwick devices used are of an industrial specification. We are continuing to search for the operators."

The Reg has deduced this is to allay any concerns that the devices were military. We have contacted the cops asking for clarification.

Updated to add at 16:04 UTC

16:00 UTC has come and gone and Gatwick airfield is still closed. Sussex cops have reportedly requested help from the Army.

Flights have now been suspended for over 19 hours.

Updated to add at 1200 UTC on 21 December

Gatwick runway reopened just before 0700 on the morning of Friday 21 December. A limited number of flights had already landed and departed by midday.

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